Background Policing is an increasingly sedentary occupation that is associated with high levels of physical and psychological morbidities. Mobile health (mHealth) technology is increasingly popular, low cost and accessible. The study aim was to assess the potential impact, feasibility and acceptability of an mHealth technology intervention (Fitbit® activity monitor and ‘Bupa Boost’ smartphone app) to promote physical activity (PA), reduce sedentary time, and improve health and wellbeing, perceived stress and perceived productivity in the police force.
Methods Single-group, pre-post, mixed methods exploratory trial. Police officers and staff (n=180) were recruited from two sites (Plymouth Basic Command Unit, Devon & Cornwall Police and North Dorset territorial area, Dorset Police). Participants used the technology for 12 weeks (an ‘individual’ then ‘social’ phase) followed by five months of optional use. Data sources included Fitbit®-recorded objective step count, questionnaire surveys and semi-structured interviews (n=32). Outcome assessment points were baseline (week 0), mid-intervention (week 6), post-intervention (week 12) and follow-up (month 8). Quantitative data was analysed using paired t-tests, regression and correlations. Qualitative analysis involved framework and thematic analysis. Findings were integrated during interpretation; qualitative findings confirmed, explained, and expanded on quantitative results.
Results While self-reported PA increased overall (e.g. mean increase +421 MET-minutes/week moderate to vigorous PA baseline to month 8, 95% CI 56–785), significant increases in steps were observed only in participants with a baseline mean daily step count less than 10,000 (+1028 steps/day, 95% CI 417–1,639 baseline to week 12; +810 steps/day, 95% CI 115–1,506 baseline to month 8).
Engagement and perceived acceptability were high overall, particularly for the less active participants, but some usability issues were reported with the Bupa Boost app, resulting in lower and declining engagement with this component. Participants preferred individual self-monitoring and goal-setting to social features of the app.
There were no significant changes in sedentary time; participants perceived a need for more opportunities for breaks in the workplace. Mental health-related quality of life improved from baseline to month 8 (SF-12 mental component score +1.75 points, 95% CI 0.28–3.23). Despite interview-reported improvements in health and wellbeing, survey-assessed changes in physical health-related quality of life, perceived stress and perceived productivity were not statistically significant.
Conclusion mHealth technology is a potentially impactful, feasible and acceptable intervention for increasing PA in the police force, particularly for less active officers and staff. The intervention was less useful for reducing sedentary time and the impact on health, wellbeing, stress and productivity is unclear.
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